LJWorld.com weblogs Ashley Montgomery

Local is more than geography


We've spent a lot of time in journalism classes talking about local media and community journalism. It's the new all-important topic and some have even touted hyper-local news as the way to save newspapers, and journalism in general, from failing. Journalists are finally starting to succumb to the idea that a teacher being fired at a local school is much more important to many americans than a bombing in Palestine.

But what is local? Is it the entirety of a city or town? Is it a neighborhood? Is it a anything within 5 miles of an individual reader's home?

The answer is tied to what Steven Berlin Johnson calls the Pothole Paradox. He says the news that a pothole on your street is being repaired may be very important to you, but a similar pothole just a few blocks away is mind-numbingly boring. Unless, as one commenter pointed out, you drive over that pothole on the way to work. Johnson co-founded a site called outside.in, which allows people to search for news based on its proximity to their address.

The site seems promising, though it still appears to need a lot of work, perhaps more in some areas than others. When I typed in my address I only got two stories - both about the fights between the KU basketball and football teams. A search in the neighborhood of Upper East Side Manhattan returns over 10,000 results.

But is this all to geographical?

Amy Gahran blogged on Poynter about this issue and said that "geographically defined local communities are becoming steadily less crucial from an information perspective." She suggested that communities be defined by age, social status, interests and the like. Perhaps localized news on the basis of things like occupation would be more useful to consumers than a hyper-localized approach to a specific neighborhood. While some neighborhoods, such as East Lawrence, may share a lot of the same values, history and atmosphere, some are so large that they simply share a zip code.

Residents may share a school, a grocery store, and even an office building but others, like my mother, may send their schools to private schools across the city and shop on the way home from their 45 minute commute. While her friend and neighbor is interested in the happenings of the school two minutes down the street and the grocery store a few miles away, she is not. She is more interested in the traffic on K-10 or crime in the neighborhood of her children's school.

The power of Twitter and Facebook, for me, is that they allows you to follow people and topics that interest you, rather it be the girl who lives down the hall, the debate about taxes at city hall, or news surrounding a friend who'd deployed in Iraq. Perhaps that is the kind of localized coverage that the media needs to learn how to provide.


Lauren Keith 8 years, 5 months ago

I completely agree that local means much more than geography, but sometimes it seems like it's easy to miss pieces of geography that are important to many of us, but don't seem newsworthy at the moment: happenings at grocery stores, office buildings, etc.

It seems like there is too much data to uncover in each place for a newspaper to be responsible for it all, and that's where I wonder who will step up (and many citizen journalists already have) and then who will be able to find and access it. Perhaps the site you mentioned will help with that.

dlowell 8 years, 5 months ago

I think you might be right here. Let me put a definition on it, and say "hyper-topical" might be a better way forward that hyper-local. Topicality, in this case, could refer to location, when necessary, like in the case of East or North Lawrence. But there are instances, I would contend especially in suburban growth areas, that hyper-local reporting might not necessarily work. Your community, the community in which you are interested in, isn't necessarily the one made up of your geographic neighbors. In fact, I feel like in some places, geographic ties are becoming so weak that many people don't even know their neighbors.

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